[Excerpted from the May/June 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Barbara Shanahan is an alumna of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. She has led the Buffalo, New York, Catholic Bible Studies Program since 1992.]
Each of the gospel accounts ends with a similar look forward. In John, Jesus says: “. . . as the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). On a mountaintop in Galilee, Matthew’s Jesus tells the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Luke says that “. . . beginning in Jerusalem, you are to be my witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:47-48). Mark expresses the same idea: “Go into the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).
The account Luke has left us of the ascension of the Lord picks up on this forward-looking direction. We can imagine the group of bewildered disciples gazing up into the sky and wondering what comes next. They are jogged into action by the presence of two men in white garments.
This is similar to the description we find in the resurrection account as told by Luke, where the women arrive at the tomb and are met by two men in dazzling garments who tell the bewildered women that life begins outside the empty tomb! Further, they are told that they should not “seek the living one among the dead” (Lk 24:4). The disciples witnessing the ascension and the women at the tomb are told not to just stand there but do something! Life continues in a profoundly transformed way, so go out of the empty tomb, go beyond Jerusalem (and wherever else we might be comfortable), and tell the story to the whole of creation!